Chocolate Pumpkin Pie

Last weekend I spent the weekend visiting my friend in Philly and eating lots of delicious food (and shopping…).  Philly has an amazing food and cocktail scene and I probably arrived home about 5 pounds heavier!  While everything was delicious, my favorite meal was at Vernick Food and Drink near Rittenhouse Square.  The meal started with the perfect amuse-bouche: a tiny cup of the most delicious sweet potato soup I have ever tasted.  I would have been satisfied just eating an entire bowl of it for my dinner!  But then I never would have tried the toast with fromage blanc, the striped jack and avocado crudo, the parmesan custard, the black-pepper glazed octopus, the tagliatelle with duck ragout and last but not least, the amazing chocolate pumpkin pie dessert!

Their chocolate pumpkin pie was a rich, creamy dark chocolate pie with strong pumpkin spice flavors.  Served warm as a small  individual pie (enough for 2 or 3…or 1 :) ) it was the perfect end to an outstanding meal.  As soon as I had my first bite of the pie, I knew I had to try to recreate it at home.

I had recently seen a recipe in the November issue of Bon Appetit for a Pumpkin Caramel Tart and decided to modify it to try to recreate the Vernick Chocolate Pumpkin Pie.  Instead of making the caramel as the recipe calls for, I made a dark chocolate ganache and substituted this for the caramel in the recipe.  I altered the spices and then poured the filling into a simple butter pie crust, laced with more spices.

The final product was pretty good but definitely paled in comparison to the Vernick version.  The chocolate overpowered the pumpkin quite a bit so I’m planning on increasing the amount of spices I use in my next test run (or maybe adding ground cloves or all-spice).  I was also unhappy with the crust and plan to substitute for a graham cracker or gingersnap crust next time.  Any volunteers to taste test?

Chocolate Pumpkin Pie

Crust (makes 2 9 inch pie crusts, adapted from Bon Appetit):
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 tablespoon sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ginger
1 cup (2 sticks) chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
6 tablespoons (about) ice water

Filling (adapted from Bon Appetit Pumpkin Caramel Tart):
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup dark chocolate chips (or chopped dark chocolate, no greater than 70%- I like using Ghiraddelli dark chocolate chips)
1 cup canned pumpkin purée
tablespoons light brown sugar
1/4 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
1 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1/4 tsp ginger
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
3 large eggs

whipped cream for serving

For the crust: Mix flour, sugar, salt, and spices in processor. Add butter; pulse until coarse meal forms. Gradually blend in enough ice water to form moist clumps. Gather dough into ball; divide in half. Form dough into 2 balls; flatten into disks. Wrap each in plastic; chill 2 hours or overnight.

Preheat over to 350 degrees.  Roll crust out on a floured surface into a 12-14 inch circle.  Fit into a 9 inch pie pan and crimp the edges.  Line crust with parchment paper and fill with pie weights, dried beans or rice.  Bake for 15 minutes.  Remove parchment paper and pie weights and bake for 5 more minutes until set.  Allow to cool.

For the filling:  Scald the cream over medium heat in a small saucepan until bubbles just start to form.  Pour over the dark chocolate in a medium heat resistant bowl.  Allow to stand for about a minute and then whisk chocolate and cream together until smooth to make a ganache.

Mix pumpkin puree, brown sugar, granulated sugar, flour, spices and salt together in a large mixing bowl.  Slowly mix in the chocolate ganache.  Add the eggs one at a time, mixing completely in between each addition until smooth.

Pour filling into prepared pie shell.  Bake at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes until edges are set and center barely jiggles.  Cool on a wire rack.  Serve cold or at room temperature.  Top with whipped cream if desired.

Store in refrigerator.

Pumpkin Cheesecake Snickerdoodle Cookies

Last Wednesday (November 4th) was National Stress Awareness Day (it was also National Candy Day…).  In a world filled with picture perfect Facebook, (insert social media of choice here), and Instagram posts, it’s easy to think that everyone else is living a fun, happy, stress-free life.  But the truth is, most of us deal with some amount of stress on a daily basis…some have just gotten better at hiding it.

National Stress Awareness Day comes at a perfect time.  Not only is it starting to get colder, but Daylight Savings kicks into effect robbing us of an extra hour of light everyday.  Cold and darkness can certainly exacerbate feelings of stress and depression.  Additionally, by November, I generally find that I have overcommitted to too many work projects and social engagements and need some time to myself.

Everyone has their own way to deal with this stress and for me, that comes in the form of cooking and baking (I recognize, though, that this may be stress inducing for others).  So last Wednesday, instead of going to spinning class, going out on a date, or working on a research project, I decided to just go home and cook, bake, and relax!

I had a craving for a pumpkin dessert and after logging onto Pinterest, these pumpkin cheesecake snickerdoodle cookies immediately caught my eye!  It is kinda hard to resist pumpkin and cheesecake all combined into one amazing cookie!

I will admit that these were a little more labor intensive than I initially anticipated.  The dough was a little sticky which made it a bit difficult to work with when assembling the cookies.  Perhaps I should have chilled the dough longer but patience is not my virtue…especially when pumpkin is involved!  The extra work was worth it though- the soft, pillowy, pumpkin spiced cookies did not last long at work the next day!  These cookies may not cure your stress, but they will certainly make it a little sweeter :)

Pumpkin Cheesecake Snickerdoodle Cookies

(Makes 24, from The Recipe Critic)

3¾ cups all-purpose flour
1½ tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. ground cinnamon
¼ tsp. freshly-ground ground nutmeg
1 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
½ cup light brown sugar
¾ cup pumpkin puree
1 large egg
2 tsp. vanilla extract

Filling Ingredients:
8 ounces cream cheese, softened
¼ cup sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Cinnamon-sugar coating:
½ cup granulated sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground ginger
Dash of allspice

In a medium bowl, whisk the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, and nutmeg together. Set aside.

In a stand-mixer with a paddle attachment, beat together the butter and sugars on medium high speed until fluffy about 2-3 minutes.  Blend in pumpkin puree, beat in egg and then add vanilla. Slowly add dry ingredients on low speed just until combined. Cover and chill dough for an hour.

To make the cream cheese filling, blend cream cheese, sugar and vanilla together. Chill for an hour.

Preheat oven to 350 and line your baking sheets with parchment paper. In a small bowl, combine the sugar and spices for the coating and set aside.

To make the cookies, take a tablespoon of the cookie batter. Flatten it like a pancake and place a teaspoon of the cream cheese in center. Form another tablespoon of the cookie batter into a flat pancake shape and place on top of the cream cheese. Pinch the edges together sealing in the cream cheese and roll into a ball. Roll in the cinnamon sugar coating and place on the prepared baking sheet 2 inches apart.

Repeat until the dough is gone and flatten the cookie dough balls with a heavy bottomed glass or measuring cup.  Bake the cookies for 10-15 minutes or until the tops start to crack. Let cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes and transfer to a wire rack. Enjoy!

Apple Pie Bars

Insert obligatory ode to fall post proclaiming love for all things pumpkin, pumpkin spice latte, pumpkin beer, butternut squash, flannel, boots, sweaters, fall foliage, cider, apples, apple picking, etc etc etc here:



And then make these!

Apple Pie Bars

(from Food and Wine Magazine)

For the crust:
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
3/8 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

For the apple filling:
3 tablespoons unsalted butter
1/4 cup light brown sugar
6 semi-tart apples (about 3 pounds, I used Honeycrisp, Macoun, and Cortland, you can also use Granny Smith)—peeled, cored and thinly sliced
1/2 tablespoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/2 cup water, as necessary

For the crumb topping:
3/8 cup walnuts
1 1/2 cups quick-cooking oats
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes and chilled

For the crust: Preheat the oven to 375°. Line a 9×13 baking dish with parchment paper. In a standing electric mixer fitted with the paddle, beat the butter with the sugar at medium speed until light and fluffy, 2 minutes. At low speed, beat in the flour and salt until a soft dough forms. Press the dough over the bottom of the pan. Bake in the center of the oven for 20 minutes, until the crust is golden. Let cool on a rack. 

For the apple filling: In a large skillet, melt the butter with the light brown sugar. Add the apples to the skillets and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 10 minutes. Stir the cinnamon and nutmeg into the skillet. Cook until the apples are caramelized and very tender and the liquid is evaporated, about 10 minutes longer; scrape up any bits stuck to the bottom of the skillet and add up to 1/2 cup of water to  prevent scorching. Let cool. 

For the crumb topping: Toast the walnuts in a skillet or in the oven until lightly toasted. Let cool, then coarsely chop the walnuts. In a large bowl, mix the oats with the flour, light brown sugar, cinnamon, baking soda and salt. Using a pastry blender or two knives, cut in the butter until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in the walnuts and press the mixture into clumps. (You can also cheat and pulse all ingredients in a food processor before mixing in the chopped walnuts.)

Assembly: Spread the apple filling over the crust. Scatter the crumbs on top, pressing them lightly into an even layer. Bake in the center of the oven for about 50 minutes to an 1 hour, until the topping is golden; rotate the pan halfway through baking. Let cool completely on a rack before cutting into 2-inch bars

The bars can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for 4 days or frozen for up to a month.

Serve warmed or at room temperature.  They are especially tasty when served warmed with a scoop of vanilla ice cream and a drizzle of salty caramel.

Cocktails and Cheese with Alden and Harlow and Formaggio Kitchen

Normally when people think of pairing cheese with alcohol, they immediately think of wine and cheese.  However, apparently we’ve been doing it wrong this whole time!  The tannins, in wine, especially red wine, dull the palate, according to Food52, and make many wines a less than ideal choice to pair with cheese.

So what should you pair with cheese?  Follow Formaggio Kitchen’s lead and pair with beer, cider….and COCKTAILS! (Check out their full listing of classes here)  The idea of pairing cheese with cocktails may scare you at first, but trust me, it is genius!  Especially when the cocktails are made by Seth Freidus, bar manager at Alden and Harlow (one of my favorite restaurants currently in the Boston area).

Seth started out bartending in high school, mostly because it looked cool and fun.  He continued to bartend in college, eventually landing a job at Eastern Standard after he graduated.  He learned a lot on the job and supplemented this by reading books about cocktails.  He’s now gained national recognition as the bar manager at Alden and Harlow and likes to focus on housemade vermouths and rotating cocktails utilizing seasonal ingredients (think turnips, eggplant, or beets!)

To create this class, Seth met up with Julia Hallman, general manager of Formaggio Kitchen, to plan the pairings.  While the selection of cheese often drives the pairings, this time Julia and Seth mixed things up a bit (no pun intended) and chose the cocktails first- I can imagine this was a fun planning session!

The final cheese plate is shown below:

Class started with a classic cocktail- the Green Fly- created in the early 20th century.  A stirred cocktail, it consists of gin, lemon juice, chartreuse (an herbal liquor), demerara syrup (similar to a simple syrup but using demerara sugar) and finished with a touch of orange oil from an orange peel .  This was paired with Ruggles Hill Ada’s Honor, a goat’s milk cheese from Hardwick, MA.  This farm is run by Tricia who milks all 14 goats by hand!  The cheese has a lovely bright, clean, and herbal flavor that was balanced out beautifully by the citrus based cocktail.

Next we moved on to shaken cocktails with a variation of a negorini.  This cocktail contained gin, cardamaro (a vegetal amaro), and a sweet vermouth (Dolin Rouge). This cocktail was described as “vegetal” and “nutty” and was paired with a Corsu Vecchiu, a sheep’s milk cheese from Corsica, France.  This region is known for its cheese-making traditions that never change and result in the same salty, bright, rich cheese every time.

This was followed by another stirred cocktail using Oloroso sherry, Applejack brandy, demerara syrup, lemon juice and a touch of salt.  The nutty, rich flavors of this cocktail lend itself well to “ripe” and “stinky” cheeses such as Rippleton, a sheep’s milk cheese from Casanovia, New York.  This cheese is a bright orange color on the outside from the wash-rind process, while the inside oozes with soft, delicious, pale yellow cheese.  I happen to love this kind of cheese but was a little skeptical about pairing it with a cocktail- but it totally worked!  This was one of my favorite pairings of the night.

Next, we went back to shaken cocktails with a mezcal based drink.  Mezcal is a delicious smokey agave liquor (similar to tequila) and it was shaken with dry vermouth, Manzanilla sherry, demerara syrup and finished with lemon oil from a lemon peel.  The smokey, sweetness of this cocktail was balanced perfectly by the savory, salty, richness of the Tomme Crayuese cow’s milk cheese it was paired with.  Tomme Crayuese…cleverly called “Tom Cruise” by the staff at Formaggio…is from Savoie, France and is produced via an aging process resulting in a layered cheese with a harder rind and soft, creamy interior.

By this point, we were starting to feel a bit tipsy with the generous pours but in the name of cheese and cocktails we persevered on!  Next we tried another sherry based cocktail with Oloroso sherry, Applejack brandy, Montenegro (one of my favorite amaros) finished with orange oil.  This was the perfect pairing for the rich, caramely Olimankaas cow’s milk cheese studded with bits of crunchy, salty lactose crystals.

Last but not least was another mezcal cocktail.  This one was shaken with Cocchi Americano, Oloroso sherry, green chartreuse and finished with orange oil.  The resultant cocktail was paired with a goat’s milk blue cheese- Persil Rambouillet from Ile-de-France.  The mild saltiness of the blue cheese lent itself well to the smokey notes in the cocktail.

I have to say, after this class, I am a definite believer in pairing cheese with cocktails.  I was surprised at how well every cocktail balanced out the cheese and fully enjoyed every single pairing!  And as if the night couldn’t get any better, we headed out to Alden and Harlow for a late night feast after class!

If you haven’t taken any classes at Formaggio Kitchen, make sure to check out their class listing here.

Full disclosure:  I am “paid” by Formaggio Kitchen in cheese and alcohol to photograph classes :)

Salted Cashew Caramel Bars

I’m going to make this post short and sweet (and maybe a little salty?).

Once again I’ve been inspired to bake by the Boston Public Market.  While picking up some produce at Siena Farms the other week, I couldn’t help but be lured by their sesame cashew bites made by Sofra, a Middle Eastern cafe and bakery established by Ana Sortun.  These little treats were layered with shortbread, caramel, sesame seeds and salted cashews and were every bit as addicting as they sound! Luckily they freeze well if you want to try to keep yourself from eating the entire package in one sitting!

While still dreaming/drooling over these delectable squares, I was asked to bring a dessert to a work potluck.  After a quick google search for “caramel cashew squares” I found a recipe on serious eats that fit the bill.  Even better, they could be made ahead of time and refrigerated which was perfect for my busy schedule.

While they weren’t quite as good as the Sofra version, I left home with an empty tupperware container…always a good sign!  I have a feeling there might be a request for them at next year’s potluck!

Salted Cashew Caramel Bars (from serious eats)

For Base:

2 cups (about 10 ounces) all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (about 7 ounces) sugar
1 large egg
3/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

For Topping:

1 1/2 cups (about 10 1/2 ounces) sugar
1 cup heavy cream
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, roughly cut into pieces
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 cups salted roasted cashews

Adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 375°F. Line a 13- by-9 inch baking pan with foil. Grease foil with butter. In a small bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt; set aside

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat together butter and sugar until fluffy and light in color, about 4-5 minutes. Beat in egg, then vanilla. Beat in the flour mixture in two additions, scraping down the sides of the bowl each time.

Place dough in prepared pan. Using either floured hands or a piece of plastic wrap, press dough evenly into the bottom of the greased baking pan. Let chill in refrigerator for 20 minutes.

Bake crust until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Remove crust, but keep oven on. Let crust cool completely. While crust is cooling, make filling.

Place sugar in a nonstick saucepan over medium high heat. Let stand until bottom layer of sugar begins to melt, then start stirring, continuing to stir until sugar has turned light brown in color and smooth in texture. Pour in heavy cream, being careful of it splattering. Stir constantly until mixture is smooth again, about 5 minutes. Turn down heat and stir in butter, vanilla, and salt. Take mixture off heat and stir in cashews. Pour mixture into pan. Bake for 15 minutes.

Let mixture cool for at least two hours or until set. When firm to the touch, cut into bars. Bars can be kept in the refrigerator for easier cutting.

Heirloom Tomato, Pesto, and Goat Cheese Tart

My birthday was a few weeks ago and for it, the city of Boston gave me the best present ever: the opening the the Boston Public Market!  For those unfamiliar, the Boston Public Market is a year-round, indoor market consisting of 37 local vendors offering coffee, donuts, cheese, meat, flowers, prepared foods, smoked fish, local produce and more.  It is the most local market in the US…just a 1/2 mile walk from my apartment!

I have probably been at least 5 times since it opened and some of the vendors are starting to recognize me (Hi Boston Smoked Fish Company!).  However, given my recent hectic work and travel schedule, I haven’t been able to cook or bake to take advantage of the amazing fresh produce offered.  This Saturday I finally had a free day in Boston and decided to let the market guide me through a lazy afternoon in the kitchen.

The gorgeous display of bright heirloom tomatoes at Siena Farms immediately caught my eye (along with fresh corn and peaches).  I quickly remembered the leftover homemade pesto in my freezer and after stopping at Appleton Farms for some fresh goat cheese, my dinner quickly materialized!

I have long had a love affair with rustic tarts- both for their simplicity and deliciousness- and decided to try my hand at my first savory tart.  I used my favorite pie/tart crust minus the sugar and then spread a layer of homemade pesto on the bottom.  Next, I layered several different varieties and colors of sliced heirloom tomatoes, sprinkled with olive oil and sea salt to bring out their flavor.  Finally, I topped the tart with the fresh goat cheese before baking it in the oven.

This was the perfect savory, summer tart to take advantage of the Boston Public Market.  Steamed sweet corn, peach crisp (a la mode), and a refreshing glass of rosé rounded out the meal!  I can’t wait to have leftovers in my call room today! (No rosé of course…)

Heirloom Tomato, Pesto, and Goat Cheese Tart

2 1/2 cups flour
1 1/4 tsp salt
16 oz (2 stick) cold butter, cut into 8 pieces
4-5 Tbs ice cold water
several tablespoons Pesto (homemade or store-bought), enough to cover bottom of tart
4-5 medium-large heirloom tomatoes, cored and slices
olive oil, to taste
sea salt, to taste
4-6 oz goat cheese
1 egg
splash of water

Make the pastry dough by blending the flour, salt and butter in a food processor and pulsing until it resembles peas. Add 1 Tbs of water at a time while pulsing until the mixture forms into a dough.  Turn out into a disk on plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.

Preheat over to 425 degrees F.  Lightly flour a large surface and roll out tart dough into a large circle until it is about 1/4 inch thin.  Transfer dough to parchment lined baking sheet (rimmed is preferable in case tart leaks).  Spoon pesto over dough, leaving a 3 inch rim of dough.  Layer the tomatoes in concentric circles.  Drizzle lightly with olive oil and sprinkle with sea salt to taste.  Top with pieces of goat cheese.

Fold dough over the edges, using the parchment paper to help, and pinch the corners together to seal it.  Make an egg wash my beating the egg with a splash of water.  Brush over the exposed edges of the dough.

Bake at 425 degrees F for 30-40 minutes, until crust is browned and tomatoes start to bubble.  Remove from oven and let cool for at least an hour.  Serve at room temperature with more pesto if desired.

Independence Day Oatmeal Cream Pies: White Chocolate, Blueberry, Oatmeal Cookies with Raspberry Filling

Happy belated 4th of July!  I’m going to make this post short and sweet as I try to get back into the work week after a great 4th of July weekend!

The great thing about having this blog is that it forces me to be creative.  My default for the 4th of July is usually a pie (and I made one of those too this year…just couldn’t help myself).  Pies are usually pretty quick and easy to make, and with so much great fuit in season in July, they are the perfect BBQ dessert!

However, I hadn’t blogged in a while (sorry) so I decided to dig into my creative side and create a new 4th of July themed cookie.  Insprired by red, white and blue, I created my own version of an Oatmeal Cream Pie (my favorite dessert snack as a kid).  I hate raisins in anything (except for Joanne Chang’s carrot cake) so those were out.  Instead I replaced them with dried blueberries and white chocolate chips.  To make these taste lighter and more summery, I replaced the nutmeg and cinnamon called for in the original recipe with lemon zest.  Finally, I made a raspberry frosting for the filling (first seen on the blog here) to complete the traditional 4th of July red, white, and blue theme!  While my triple berry crostata was the first dessert to go, the cookies were a success…a few even dug in before the pork and burgers!

White Chocolate, Blueberry, Oatmeal Cream Pies with Raspberry Filling

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 3/4 cup flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon sea salt
lemon zest from 1/2 a lemon
1 3/4 cup old –fashioned rolled oats (not instant or quick-cooking)
1 cup dried blueberries
3/4 cup white chocolate chips

In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter and sugars until very light and fluffy, about 5 minutes. Meanwhile in a separate bowl, whisk together the flour, baking soda, salt, and lemon zest, making sure there are no lumps of baking soda. Stir in the oats, dried blueberries and white chocolate chips.

Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until thoroughly combined. On low speed, or by hand, gradually add the flour and oat mixture to the creamed butter, mixing until completely incorporated.

Chill the batter a few hours or overnight, covered. (This step is optional, although recommended)

To bake the cookies, preheat the oven to 350ºF (180ºC). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a silicone baking mat.  Scoop out 1 Tbs balls of cookie dough and bake until just browning, about 9-10 minutes.  Let cool completely on wire racks.

Raspberry Filling

12 oz raspberries (fresh or frozen)
1 cup (2 sticks) of butter at room temperature
4 1/2 cups of powdered sugar, divided

Heat raspberries in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until berries are broken down. Pour into a blender and puree until smooth. Strain raspberry puree through a fine mesh strainer to remove the seeds. Return puree to the saucepan and simmer over low heat until reduced slightly so you end up with about 1/2 cup of raspberry puree (about 3-5 minutes). Let sit at room temperature for about an hour and then chill in refrigerator 1-2 hours until cool and thick. Can be made 1-2 days ahead of time.

In a stand-mixer with a whip attachment, whip the butter and 2 cups of powdered sugar until combined. Add the raspberry mixture (1/2 cup) and mix to combine. Gradually add the remaining 2 1/2 cups of powdered sugar, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl as needed to thoroughly incorporate all ingredients. Continue to whip for 1-2 minutes until frosting is lighter in color.


Once cookies are completely cooled, pipe (or spread, but piping looks prettier!) a generous teaspoon of raspberry frosting onto the bottom side cookie. Place another cookie on top and gently press down until frosting reaches the edges of the cookie.  Enjoy! (Warning: you will have extra frosting!)